TRENTON A bill that would force colleges to pay $50,000 fines if they fail to report student-on-student sexual assault allegations was advanced by a state legislative committee Thursday.
Reporting is required under federal law. But the bill's sponsor, Reed Gusciora (D., Mercer), told the Assembly's higher education committee on Thursday that it often does not happen.
He said a fine would motivate schools to have better reporting processes. He said outside police should investigate all allegations.
The handling of sexual assaults on campuses has received particular scrutiny since the White House last week released guidelines to combat the crimes.
At the same time, the U.S. Department of Education released a list of 55 colleges under investigation for their handling of complaints. Among them was Princeton University.
Barbara Berreski of the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities said the bill would contradict another law that says schools cannot force victims to report crimes to authorities if they do not want to.
But Gusciora said that law and attitude are problems.
"What she wants to do is have the victims in the driver's seat," he said. "We don't want the victims in the driver's seat."
He said that because of social pressures and stigmas, victims, particularly in college, are often reluctant to report assaults. The decision should lie with professional investigators, he said.
The bill was advanced to the full Assembly with all four Democrats voting for it and all three Republicans abstaining. One of the Republicans, John DiMaio of Warren County, said the penalties should be levied on college officials personally.